The Department of Health's ambitious plan for school nurses to lead the new Healthy Child Programme for five to 19 year-olds has been praised by many senior health care professionals but they fear that without major recruitment the "vision" may not be realised.
Not only is there an estimated shortfall of 2,500 school nurses being trained, there are fears that some are being "poached" to work as health visitors, as primary care trusts struggle to meet the government target to recruit an extra 4,200 health visitors by 2015.
Sharon White, professional officer at the School and Public Health Nurses Association, believes that while many school nurses have been tempted away by the promise of guaranteed work in health visiting, the planned expansion of the school nursing role should lead to a growth in the workforce.
According to the DH draft, school nurses will not only lead the Healthy Child Programme, but also manage support for children with complex needs, including providing advice and training for all families, carers and staff in their school.
UNITE/CPHVA professional secretary Ros Godson feels that for these proposals to work each secondary school should have its own full-time nurse but says current numbers are way off achieving this.
"There are 3,500 secondary schools in England, but there are 1,104 full-time equivalent qualified school nurses and this year there were [only] 206 training commissions for school nurses," she explained.
"Plainly, that is nowhere near enough, They actually need to train an extra 1,000 school nurses a year for the next three years - that would be our target."
School nurses are also to be charged with providing early intervention for families with multiple needs, reducing obesity and drug and alcohol use and offering sexual health advice to young people, something Anna Martinez, head of the Sex Education Forum at the National Children's Bureau, admits will be difficult to achieve with current numbers, adding: "School nurses are an extremely important resource, particularly for teaching children about health issues.
"But it's impossible for them to do that health education if there aren't enough of them.
"It would be great to see each school have their own nurse who would not only support them with immunisations and health checks, but also the wider health education."